June 12-20, 1864.
- By the left flank -- Wilcox's Landing -- across the James -- on towards Petersburg -- why Petersburg was not taken -- what Hancock says -- to the front -- we fire the First shells into the Cockade City -- the Fortieth Massachusetts infantry -- again forward -- two moves more to the front line -- relieved by Colored troops of the Ninth Corps.
Rumors of another move were now currently reported, and although men were busy constructing a line of breastworks in the rear, we had long since discovered that such an indication was no augury on which to base calculations for a continued stay. It was on the Sabbath, June 12th, that our caissons were moved from the cross-roads, two miles further to the rear. This. surely looked ominous; but rumor, to our minds, was resolved into certainty when, late in the afternoon, all the bands struck up lively airs, playing until dark. ‘That means a move,’ was the remark on all sides, for we had noted this coincidence on other occasions; and sure enough, true to the portent, orders were received to be in readiness to draw out immediately after dark. So our limber chests are at once remounted, our guns drawn silently down out of the works by hand, and we are off again. Proceeding to the caissons, we await our designated place in column. We evidently have a night march on hand. It is an interesting  study to us, as we wait, to observe the sombre columns move silently and steadily along. Not a word is spoken aloud by those thousands, and each man seems buried in the silence of his own thoughts. What those thoughts are, an analysis of our own at that time may give us an idea, and that analysis, in brief, can be stated in these interrogatories—What next? Who next? Our march presented the usual chapter of halts, miring of caissons, taking of wrong road by some portion of the corps, etc., together conspiring to bring this particular night up to the standard of all such, in the respect of being disagreeable. We marched about seventeen miles. Our course took us past Dispatch Station, on the York River Railroad, and the exceeding rapidity with which we had been put over the road to that point seemed, in our minds, to give special fitness to the name. The light of day at last began to creep up from the east and dispel the drowsiness which always persisted most obstinately just before dawn, and the comparative silence of the hour was broken by some grim humorist muttering, ‘Why don't the army move?’ We smile internally as we think how many of the grumbling, unappreciative stay-at-homes, on taking up their papers of that morning, shall wonder what this lull in war news can mean. But we now make pause for breakfast,—a pause that continues for about six hours, and which we gladly improve in making up sleep. At noon we were off again, and by 1 o'clock crossed the Chickahominy at Long Bridge, where a pontoon had been laid, and over which Warren's Fifth Corps had passed in advance. This dark and already historic stream rolled sluggishly along between densely wooded and marshy banks, and the whole neighborhood,  to our lively imaginations, seemed pervaded with the gloom and miasmata with which the stream had been associated in our minds. We pursued our march somewhat leisurely the most of the afternoon, through a level tract of country thinly populated, but as yet our destination was simply conjectural. Some said we were bound to Harrison's Landing. At all events we were on the direct course to James River. ‘Twelve miles to the river,’ replies a staff-officer to an inquiry on this point. ‘Twenty, at the least calculation,’ is the observation of another equally unreliable authority. The negroes are also vacant of. any information on this head; but an old man, standing in his doorway, to whom we broach the query, affirms, with positiveness, that to the Landing by this road is ‘just five miles.’ Fifteen minutes afterwards we interview a pretty woman, who has come out to her gate to see us pass. After listening civilly to some secession talk, we put the same conundrum of distance to her; whereat she displays her accurate (?) knowledge of arithmetic and local geography by declaring the river to be just six miles from a barn which she points out some distance ahead. This finished our examination of the inhabitants on this topic, and we trudged on, assured that ultimately we should solve the problem for ourselves. We passed over the intervening space at an unusually rapid rate, and after dusk, parked in a luxuriant field of clover on the farm of a Dr. Wilcox, and watered our horses in the James River at what is known as Wilcox's Landing.1  Tuesday morning, June 14th, the troops began to cross the river, being transported in steamboats of varied description, that the government had assembled here in large numbers for that purpose. A pontoon was begun in the forenoon at Cole's Ferry, a short distance below the Landing, and finished at midnight This bridge was considered a remarkable achievement in pontoon engineering, it being two thousand feet long, and the channel boats being anchored in thirteen fathoms of water.2 The troops continued crossing all this and the succeeding day, our turn not coming until during the afternoon of the 15th. Our guns were loaded on one boat, and the men and horses on another; but the guns did not reach us until evening. Among the boats used in the ferriage were the ‘Jefferson,’ an old East Boston ferry-boat, and the ‘Winnissimmet,’ that plied so many years beween Boston and Chelsea, and when we embarked on board the latter to make the crossing, it seemed almost as if we were at home once more. The landing having been effected at what was known as Windmill Point, we went into camp for the night, not far from the brink of the river; but sunrise of the 16th found us up again and resuming the advance. The country we were now traversing was quite level, and had not been the theatre of warfare, hence houses, fences, and crops were generally undisturbed. From the estates of some of the more wealthy  farmers the occupants had fled—a foolish proceeding on their part, for inhabited houses were, as a rule, more respectfully treated than those that were vacated. The fact of a family being fugitives was taken as conclusive evidence that their sympathies were enlisted on the side of rebellion, and hence, in the expressive language of the army slang, the soldiers frequently ‘went through’ such dwellings. The barns in this section were well filled with tobacco in the various stages of curing; and lovers of the weed took the opportunity to replenish their stock at a figure considerably lower than sutlers' prices. Our destination was as yet only surmised, but every indication pointed to the correctness of that surmise; viz., that we were aiming at Petersburg. About the middle of the afternoon we reached the Petersburg and City Point Railroad. And now, in order that the reader may follow more understandingly, the movements of the corps3 will be noted in brief, from the time of its arrival at the James until we rejoined it before the city, and any of the Company who read this will, we hope, obtain a little clearer view of what the ‘Old Second Corps’ was doing, and why it failed to do more at this time. Gen. Hancock says the corps was all across at an early hour on the morning of the 15th, save one regiment and four batteries. On the evening of the 14th Gen. Meade had given him orders to hold his troops in readiness to move, informing him that he might be instructed to march towards Petersburg. Later in the evening he was ordered to move by the most direct route to that city (after having received from Gen. Butler and distributed sixty thousand rations), and take position where the City Point  Railroad crossed Harrison's Creek. At 4 o'clock A. M. of the 15th, Hancock notified Meade that the rations were not yet received. He repeated this report to the commander of the army at 6.30 o'clock A. M., and continued waiting for them until 9 A. M., and then gave orders by signal telegraph for the head of the column to move. This miscarried, and the column did not start until 10.30 A. M. Birney was in advance. Gen. Meade afterwards gave his approval to Hancock's moving on without the rations. After a while it was learned that the map by which they were attempting to march was utterly worthless, Harrison's Creek being inside the Rebel lines some miles from where it was laid down. The head of the column was then turned from the Prince George Court House road easterly towards Old Court House. It was then but six miles from Petersburg, and the time was not yet 3 o'clock P. M. At 5.30 P. M., as the column neared Old Court House, a place distant less than three miles south-west of City Point, a despatch was handed Hancock, directed to Gen. Gibbon or any division commander, from Grant, urging expedition in getting to the assistance of Gen. Smith, who, it stated, had carried the outer works in front of Petersburg. Hancock now turned Birney's and Gibbon's divisions in that direction.
‘No time’ [says Hancock] ‘had been lost on the march during the day, although it was excessively hot, the road was covered with clouds of dust, and but little water was found on the route, causing severe suffering among the men.’Singular as it may seem, this despatch from Grant was the first intimation Hancock had received that Petersburg was to be attacked.4 Had  he been thus apprised earlier, there would have been no waiting six hours for rations, or floundering about in quest of a place that had no practical existence, and the city would, in all probability, have been entered that night.
‘At 6.30 P. M.’ [the report continues] ‘the head of Birney's division had arrived at the Bryant House on Bailey's Creek, about one mile in rear of the position of Gen. Hinks's division of the Eighteenth Corps . . . . . Gen. Smith now asked me to relieve his troops from the works they had carried, and so Birney and Gibbon were ordered forward for that purpose. . . . This took till 11 P. M., too late for further advance. The works were immediately adapted for defence against the enemy and guns placed in them.’The golden opportunity to seize the ‘Cockade City’ by a coup-de-main had now passed, for by this time the advance guard of Lee's veterans was rapidly defiling across the Appomattox to its relief; and when, in the morning of the 16th, at 6 o'clock, Birney and Gibbon advanced their lines to reconnoitre, they found their old antagonist confronting them before the ‘Avery House.’ During the forenoon, in the absence of Gen. Meade, Hancock was instructed to take command of all the forces in front of Petersburg and reconnoitre, with a view of finding a vulnerable point. This was done, and the hill occupied by the ‘Hare House’5 was decided upon by Gen. Meade, who had now arrived, as the best place to attack. The assault was made by the Second Corps at 6 P. M., and some ground gained, but with heavy loss. The enemy made several desperate but futile efforts to retake the lost ground. On our arrival at the City Point Railroad, late in the afternoon of the 15th, we heard from cavalry videttes our first intelligence concerning the capture of the outer works of Petersburg. The sun  was just setting when, tired, hot, and dusty, we turned from the road and clambered upon an elevated spot amid a mass of stumps and brush, from which the spires of the city were visible, to await orders. It was when Birney and Gibbon were advancing their lines in front, and to the right of the ‘Hare House.’ We had heard skirmishing in progress for some time, and now it had increased to the firing of volleys. There was sharp work on hand. From the tops of our carriages we saw over the somewhat wooded hills, long lines of smoke, and fitful flashes of fire beneath. Now and then a Rebel shell came into our vicinity, serving the purpose, at least, of keeping our interest from flagging; but as the darkness deepened all sounds died away, and we were just reconciling ourselves to spending the night there—indeed, many were already wrapped in their blankets—when orders came to he ready to move in five minutes. Having cut a path through the brush for the freer passage of the teams, we moved immediately into the road, and were directed to the front line. We passed through the captured line by a large fort that stood at the side of the road, and turned into the thoroughfare leading from Prince George's Court House to the city, soon reaching the position assigned us. It was in a field on the right of the road. The frequent snapping of rifles, and the occasional ‘zip’ of a bullet, apprised us of our proximity to the picket line, and admonished us to protect ourselves by redoubts. By the time they were finished it was midnight, and giving the ‘Johnnies’ a shot or two to celebrate their completion, we lay down behind them and were soon asleep. We were up bright and early on the 16th, expecting a renewal of the attack, and while thus waiting 
|Lieut. Charles E. Pierce|